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COVID-19, lockdown and children with disability, autism and other conditions

COVID-19, lockdown and children with disability, autism and other conditions

Lockdown means more time with your family. If you’re working, it probably means that you’re balancing supervision of children’s learning, family time and work commitments.

Lockdown during COVID-19: what it might mean for your family

Lockdown means more time with your family. If you’re working, it probably means that you’re balancing supervision of children’s learning, family time and work commitments. And if you have autistic children or children with disability or other conditions, you might also be:

  • helping children deal with anxiety and boredom because of COVID-19 and lockdown
  • looking after more daily care needs, if your regular carers or respite services are no longer available
  • trying to give children more one-on-one support for learning
  • feeling concerned about meeting the needs of all your children.

There are things you can do to help your family manage in this situation:

  • talking about COVID-19 and lockdown
  • using routines
  • getting organised with learning support
  • supporting siblings’ needs
  • looking after yourself.

It might also help to remind yourselves that if your family is in lockdown, you’re helping to reduce your family’s risk of getting COVID-19. You’re also helping to protect your friends, extended family and community from the spread of COVID-19.

Key points

  • If you’re in COVID-19 lockdown with children with disability, you might be managing child anxiety, daily care activities, learning from home, and sibling needs.
  • It can help to talk through anxiety, use routines, get organised with learning, and try to balance all children’s needs.
  • Looking after yourself and seeking support in this situation is good for you and good for your children.
  • If your family is in lockdown, you’re helping to protect everyone in your community.

Talking about COVID-19 and lockdown with children and teenagers with disability

Children and teenagers with disability are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety. For example, your child might be anxious about getting COVID-19, getting sicker or having complications because of the virus. They might also be upset and worried about the way lockdown has changed things like your family routines, their medical or therapy appointments, and their friendships and schooling.

Talking can help children with disability experiencing anxiety and teenagers with disability experiencing anxiety. In particular, you can support your child by acknowledging their worries or anxieties and listening actively when your child wants to talk. It’s also important to give your child developmentally appropriate and reliable information about COVID-19, life in lockdown and so on.

It’s a good idea to seek advice from your GP or specialist about whether your child has a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and what extra precautions you and your child might need to take during lockdown.

Using routines to manage lockdown with children and teenagers with disability

By using routines, you can create an organised and predictable home environment. This helps children of all ages and abilities feel safe and secure, especially when things are stressful or when children are going through difficult experiences like lockdown.

Routines can also help you and other family members find time for chores and responsibilities. This can be good if you have extra household or care responsibilities because you’re all at home.

You can also use routines to make time for children’s play and learning activities, and fun family activities like games nights or reading together. Activities like these can help you all stay positive during lockdown.

You might need to adapt routines to suit the changes in your family’s life. For example, if you’re now responsible for more of your child’s daily care needs, procedures or medications, some changes to your daily routine might make it easier for you and your child to remember and manage these extra responsibilities.

You can help your child with disability cope with changes to your family life and routines by using aids like the following or by adapting your existing aids:

  • Social stories: for example, you could have a story for hand-washing, which covers when to wash hands and the steps to follow, like turning on the tap, wetting hands, putting on soap, rubbing hands with soap, and rinsing and drying hands.
  • Visual supports: for example, you could have a visual support that shows your new morning routine, with pictures of getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, sitting at the table to start school, and signing into an online classroom.

And remember that adjusting to routines takes time and effort. If you give your child plenty of praise when they start adapting to a new routine, they’re more likely to stick with it.

*** Many children with disability have regular medical appointments and therapy sessions. It’s a good idea to ask your child’s medical and therapy providers how they can support your child during lockdown. For example, they might offer telehealth therapy sessions, which can have many benefits for your child’s development.

Supporting learning for students with disability during lockdown

Students with disability have the right to keep learning during lockdown. Also, schools have an obligation to make learning accessible for all students, including students with disability. Here are some suggestions that can help you support your child’s learning.

Get informed
This is about understanding how your child’s school is delivering learning and support to all students, including children with disability. For example, you can check:

  • which online platform or platforms the school is using
  • what resources your child’s teachers, school or education department are providing
  • when the school expects students to do their learning and whether there’s any flexibility
  • how the school expects students to do learning tasks, track progress, submit tasks and so on
  • who to ask for help if you’re not sure how the system works.

Consider and negotiate adjustments
This is about considering how the school’s plans and systems for delivering learning will suit your child’s learning style and needs. For example, you can check:

  • whether the school’s learning platform and the way it delivers learning is accessible for your child
  • whether learning materials are accessible for your child
  • how teaching and instruction methods can be adapted for your child’s needs
  • how any learning aids and other supports that your child uses at school can be adapted for home use
  • whether your child needs more flexible arrangements to learn with different or fewer supports at home
  • who you can contact at the school to discuss accessibility and flexibility for your child.

If you’re not sure about or satisfied with the current arrangements, you might need to be an advocate for your child. You can work with the school on adjustments that will help your child get the most out of learning from home.

Aim for a daily routine
Learning from home will probably run more smoothly if you aim for a daily routine – but remember that it’s OK if you don’t follow the routine exactly. For example, you can think about:

  • whether the usual school timetable will work or whether a simpler timetable might be better for learning at home
  • how you can convert whatever routine you decide on into a visual timetable for the day
  • how to break up the day, alternating chunks of learning with regular breaks
  • how to introduce some fun into the day – for example, you could mark the end of each day with an activity that your child enjoys.

It’s a good idea to make a regular time each day to check in with your child about how things are going, what you’re all enjoying, and whether there’s anything that you or your child needs to change.

Communicate regularly with the school
You might already have regular emails, phone calls or meetings with your child’s classroom teacher, home-room teacher, year coordinator, learning support coordinator or student welfare coordinator.

This regular contact will be even more important during lockdown, so you, your child and teachers can keep on top of learning tasks and assignments, as well as your child’s general wellbeing. But you might need to check on the best way to keep this communication going.

For example, you might need to:

  • contact each teacher and request copies of lesson plans, assignments and so on
  • make regular times to check in with teachers about how your child is going
  • talk with teachers about what’s working well and what might need to change.

You might also need to ask for a meeting with all the relevant school staff to discuss your child’s overall learning and progress. At this meeting, you can look at how your child’s individual learning plan might need to be adjusted to ensure your child keeps meeting learning goals while learning from home.

*** Helping children learn from home is different from teaching children at school. You’re not expected to do what teachers do. You can only do your best to support your child’s learning, and remember that it’s OK to ask for as much help as you and your child need.

Supporting siblings of children with disability during lockdown

The siblings of children with disability are likely to have many and mixed feelings about lockdown too. They also have learning and other needs. And they need to feel that they’re just as important to you as your child with disability – that you care about them and what they’re going through too. This means you might need to think about how to support siblings of children with disability during this time. Here are some tips:

  • Talk with typically developing children about their feelings about physical distancing and being at home with the family.
  • When you see your typically developing children handling the situation well, give them plenty of praise.
  • Try to make time for each child. This could be as simple as walking around the block, reading, cooking or playing a card game together.
  • Keep an eye on how many and what kind of extra responsibilities typically developing children are taking on while you’re all at home together.
  • Encourage typically developing children to make time each day for things they enjoy and find relaxing.

Looking after yourself during lockdown

Caring for children during lockdown is a big and important job. It’s easy to get caught up in looking after all your children’s needs, especially if you’re getting less support or your respite services aren’t available at the moment.

If you’re still working, you could consider talking with your employer about family-friendly work options to get you through this period.

It’s also good to make some time for things you enjoy, like exercising, reading, or staying in touch with friends on the phone or online. This can help you relax and feel better if you’re experiencing stress, anxiety or anger.

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